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More than once, I've considered packing up the family and taking a job in a different city. Each time, my wife and I thought about what it might do to them if we moved. But we were just guessing. There are data! This is Healthcare Triage News.

Is moving hard on kids? Turns out, yes.

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More than once, I've considered packing up the family and taking a job in a different city.  Each time, my wife and I thought about what that might do to our kids if we moved, but we were just guessing.  There's data!  This is Healthcare Triage News.


From The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, "Adverse outcomes to early middle age linked with childhood residential mobility."  I have trouble sometimes in my own institution getting data on all the people with certain conditions cared for in the clinics we run, so when I see data like these containing information on every single person born in Denmark from 1971 to 1997, I get a tear in my eye, but their amazingness is our game, too.  Straight to the research!

Researchers took this cohort of almost 1.5 million Danes followed from their 15th birthdays until their early 40s, which also contained data on their residential moves each year from birth until 14 years of age.  They could also look at the incidence of mental health issues, substance abuse, attempted suicides, and criminality and they could look at unnatural deaths.

While no cohort study is perfect, this one did control for urbanicity at birth, parental age at birth, family history of mental disorders, parental socioeconomic status, age at follow up, calendar year, and gender.  Only moves that crossed a municipal boundary were counted as those were the ones that would require a change in school.  More than a third of kids had at least one such move before they turned 15 years old.  It seems that parents were more likely to move a child when they were younger, too.  More than 7% of kids were moved in their first year of life compared to less than 3% of kids in their 14 year.

Now for the results.  Kids who moved had a higher rate of all the outcomes of interest, which were bad, and the more you moved, the worse it got.  Kids who were older when they were moved saw worse outcomes than kids who were younger, and moves in mid-adolescence were associated with sharp spikes in rates of bad outcomes.

With respect to attempted suicide and violent criminality, these spikes were seen across the socioeconomic spectrum.  It wasn't just a problem with poorer individuals.  The blue line is for kids who had one residential move in a year of their childhood.  The red line is kids who had more than one such move.  

Now for the caveats and there are many worth considering.  This is a study of Denmark, which isn't necessarily representative of the rest of the world.  In fact, there are few places that keep records like these on all of their citizens and that alone sets it apart in many ways.  It's also possible that moving could be a proxy for other problems in a family.  Moving could be a marker of family chaos or dysfunction.  It could also be a marker of divorce or family disruption.  Theoretically, this could even be reversed causality.  Maybe families moved more when something's wrong with their kid.

But let's ignore the fact that moves are hard on children.  They disrupt their friendships and social ties.  It's not unrealistic to think that this could cause some percentage of them to have issues or problems.  The bottom line is that this is a data point in support of the fact that moving is disruptive to kids' lives and health.  Some moves are unavoidable.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to the fact that kids may need extra help, attention, and maybe even resources when they occur.

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